Every flower has a message.
|My arms were full of heather, piled so high I could hardly see over the mound in my arms. Feathery pink petals brushed against my cheek as I stretched my hand toward my shop door.
“Let me help you with that.” The voice was deep and gravely. Masculine. From between the tangle of purple stems, I watched a strong hand twist the doorknob. I kicked the door open and unloaded my burden onto a long, white table.
“Thank you for —“ I trailed off, taking in the suit and sunglasses. My heart kicked up a notch when my mystery man lifted his wrist to his mouth and quietly murmured into his sleeve. I squinted at his earpiece, wondering if he was FBI or CIA.
“I apologize for the theatrics, Ms. Green.” He held out a hand and I tentatively took it. With a firm shake, he grimaced. “You can call me Agent X. I'm here on a government matter —“
“Look,” I said, feeling my knees grow weak, “the weed I found on the property wasn't mine. I don't grow those kinds of plants. I mean, sure, I grow medicinal herbs but they're more along the lines of Echinacea or Elderberry —“
Agent X laughed and dropped my hand. “Marijuana is the least of our concerns, Ms. Green.” He gestured toward the door. “I'll need you to come with me. My partner and I will debrief you in the car on the way to the airport.” He placed a hand on my elbow and gently pulled me forward.
“Airport?” My voice squeaked. I cleared it and tried again. “Where are you taking me?”
“Nevada, Ms. Green” He reached up and pulled his sunglasses down the bridge of his nose, fixing me with his warm, brown eyes. “Area 51, to be exact.”
Another tug and I picked up my feet and walked to Agent X's dumpy green Honda.
* * *
“Wait a minute,” I said with a laugh. “You're telling me aliens actually exist? And they're here, conveniently making first contact at Area 51?” I crossed my arms over my chest and glanced around the plain, windowless room that Agent X had led me into. My flight to Nevada had been long. Despite my debriefing, I still couldn't wrap my head around the scenario. Now I was tired and growing crabby from the time change. I was a long way from the east coast.
Agent X ran a hand through his hair. His lips pressed together in one hard line and I could tell he was struggling not to become frustrated with me.
“Officially? No. They're not here.” Agent X pierced me in place with his eyes. I slowly nodded, quickly picking up what he was laying down. “Unofficially? This isn't anything new. The only difference is that, in the past, our scientists and linguists had no issues with creating a line of communication. This time, however —“
“Something got botched up,” I interrupted. “And you need a florist, of all things, to set things right?”
“Not just a florist,” Agent X said with a sigh. “We need someone with the knowledge of plants and their specific meanings.”
“A botanist, then?” I shook my head. “I'm sure there are plenty of better qualified botanists you could have snatched from their homes.”
Agent X fumbled for his sunglasses and slipped them on, avoiding my gaze.
“What? What aren't you telling me?” I squinted my eyes and leaned forward. “Did...did you already send someone in to talk to these aliens?” Agent X shifted in his seat. For such a well-trained operative, I found it strange how easily I could read his body language.
“Oh my goodness!” I shouted and my voice echoed back at me. “You sent others in and they died didn't they? And now you want me to go in? No way!”
“They made a mistake with the, uh, translations.” He slid a yellow folder towards me. My hands trembled but I reached for the file and carefully flipped it open. A picture of a short, furry, long nosed creature stared back at me.
“Is that...” I could feel my eyebrows pressing toward my hairline. “ALF?”
“Not quite,” Agent X said. Scooting closer, he turned the picture over and pointed at the document behind it. “The original ALF was from the Lower East Side on planet Melmac. He spoke perfect English and agreed to share some, uh, technological advances, in return for a career in the show biz.”
“Technological advances, huh?” I scanned at the next paper. “Personal computers? The World Wide Web? DVDs —“
“That should have been redacted!” Agent X grabbed the paper from under my fingers. He frowned and balled the information up into a tiny ball.
“Ooookay,” I muttered.
“We're assuming the ALF's we're dealing with today are from northern Melmac, though with our communication failures we can't be one hundred percent sure. We're calling them Anthophiles since they are drawn to the plants and flowers on our planet.”
I flipped another page and stared at a picture of a blond woman holding out her hands to one of the Anthophiles. Her palms were cupped with what looked like Samara seeds.
“Messengers,” I whispered.
“The seeds in her hands, I assume they're from the Anthophiles? Those seeds are from a maple tree. Or maybe an ash. In the world of botany, they mean 'messenger'. These aliens came to give a message.” I moved on to the next picture. The blond was holding out a wisteria clipping, its purple flowers bright and vibrant. I pointed at the picture, vaguely noting my nails were bitten down to the quick.
“The wisteria is a welcoming plant. That was a good move. But this next picture,” I lifted the photo and handed it to Agent X, “the aliens are giving her thistle. That's a warning. They were cautioning her...” I groaned at the next shot.
“Snapdragons,” Agent X said, stating the obvious.
“Snapdragons have two meanings. Graciousness or ...” I hesitated for a moment and licked my dry lips.
“Deception.” I fixed my eyes on Agent X, noting my reflection in his dark glasses. “The Anthophiles must have taken the latter meaning. They thought you didn't trust their warning.”
I glanced at the final photo and shrieked. The picture fluttered to the floor and I turned my face away from the bloody image of the blond, decapitated, on the floor.
“Whoops, that wasn't supposed to be in there,” Agent X grunted, bending and scooping up the evidence.
My voice shook, “I can't talk to these creatures! These aliens...their language is too complex! One mistake and...” I jabbed a finger at the photo of the dead florist in his shirt pocket. I felt like I was going to throw up.
“If you won't,” Agent X said with a sigh, “ Then humanity is, potentially, doomed.”
My mouth opened and shut again. I felt like a fish out of water. “That's not fair. You can't put a burden like this on a regular person!”
“You're not a regular person,” he said, pulling off his sunglasses and winking at me. “You're a botanist. You know the secret language of flowers and ferns.”
I squeezed my eyes shut and shook my head. “No. No, no, no! Find someone else!”
A gentle touch on my shoulder had my eyes flying open again. “We don't have time to find someone else. We have a warning that needs interpretation and you're the only one that can do it!”
I was going to have to do it. Agent X knew it and deep inside, I knew it. But I didn't have to like it.
“Fine,” I grumbled, stomping my foot like a child. “But if I die, I swear I'll kill you!”
Agent X chuckled. “Agreed. Now I know you'd like some time to prepare but we suspect the aliens won't be here much longer. They've been unusually active the last week.”
“Can't you contain them in some kind of force field? This is Area 51...they can't just leave. Can they?”
“Unfortunately force fields was one tech ALF refused to share with us,” he scowled. “These aliens are pretty powerful. We couldn't keep them here if we tried.”
“Well, then, take me to their leader.”
“Glad you can joke at a time like this,” Agent X chuckled as we walked down a long hall. He pushed open a metal door and nudged me inside. I stumbled inside and came face-to-face with two long-nosed Anthophiles. Several tables, overflowing with a myriad of plants and flowers, were pressed against the walls. Keeping a wary eye on the strange creatures, I slowly picked up a white tulip and a sprig of yellow rue.
The Anthophiles glanced at each other. Their noses wiggled as they sniffed and snorted and then the one to the right of me took the flowers from my hand.
“Forgiveness and regret,” I murmured to Agent X, noting the perplexed look on his face. “I'm telling them we're sorry for doubting them.”
The alien to my left marched to one of the tables and grabbed a solid colored carnation. His furry fingers pressed against my hand as he pushed the flower at me. I lifted the flower to my nose and gave a good, loud sniff, and tried to ignore the way the alien's noses wobbled in apparent appreciation. My eyes flickered over the tables. I grinned and snagged a bunch of Canterbury Bells.
“They've said yes,” I told Agent X. “Yes to our apology. Now I'm giving them our gratitude.”
My next move was tricky. There was only one plant I could think of that represented news. However, it meant good news and I wanted to ask if there was bad news. I sighed and pushed down a wave of panic. I had to try. Hopefully the Anthophiles would understand what I was saying. My hand hovered over an Iris. Thinking for a moment, I turned the flower upside-down and presented it stem first. The aliens noses twitched before passing back a broken piece of cypress.
“Death!” The word squawked out before I could stop it. Agent X reached for his gun but I lifted a hand. “Not them. They're telling us death is coming.”
“From where? Who?” Agent X slid his weapon back in his holster.
“I don't know.”
A bamboo flower was thrust in my face and I grimaced. “Well, there's our answer. In the past, the bamboo flower was known to represent plague.”
“Look!” Agent X hissed, “They've got an armload for you!”
I jerked toward the Anthophiles and, like a puppet, held out a hand for their offerings.
Peach and pear blossoms. Long life and friendship.
Celandine. Joys to come.
The Anthophiles, hands empty, turned and began to waddle away. Agent X raised an eyebrow my direction. I felt as perplexed as he looked. The aliens looked over their shoulders. Their eyes, like small, black pebbles, sparkled under the fluorescent lights.
“I think they want us to follow them,” Agent X said. “I think they want to save us from this world.”
“Very funny,” I scoffed. “What? Are we supposed to be the next Adam and Eve on some strange world where we'll only communicate with flowers?” My face turned into a burning furnace when Agent X's amused gaze dropped to mine.
“Maybe,” he said with a grin. He held out his hand and I tentatively took it. Together, as if in a dream, we followed the Anthophiles to their ship.
“By the way, “ Agent X whispered, “My real name is Aster.”
“Aster means love,” I said without thinking. He squeezed my hand and the ship's door closed.